The Water’s Fine
Recreational Water Quality Program Tests
Bacteria Levels at Coastal Swimming Areas
TESTING THE WATERS: Valerie Wunderly of the state Recreational Water Quality Program gathers water samples at a popular swimming site.
By Patricia Smith
Fish Eye News
Aug. 2011 Archive
Valerie Wunderly extended a modified golf ball retriever into the ocean surf at a popular swimming site. The retriever held a bottle that she dipped and filled with water to take back to a lab for testing.
If the tests showed high bacteria levels, the state would have issued a swimming advisory and possibly posted a sign at the site, but Wunderly did not anticipate a problem.
“There aren’t usually a lot of issues at the ocean sites,” said Wunderly, an environmental senior technician with the state’s Recreational Water Quality Program, now part of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
The swimming areas on the ocean are not as impacted by the varied sources of stormwater runoff as some of the swimming areas on sounds and rivers, she said. Additionally, the ocean flushes itself more quickly than the estuarine waters.
“The majority of our advisories are for sound-side sites,” said J.D. Potts, Recreational Water Quality Program manager. “It’s not often we have an ocean advisory.”
The state tests 240 swimming areas each week, 140 of which are on the sounds and rivers, Potts said. The state issues, on average, about 30 swimming advisories per year.
“There’s approximately nine sites that are responsible for many of the advisories,” he said.
Some of the problems are caused by pet waste in residential areas where people walk their dogs, Potts said. Others are caused by wildlife feces in areas where waterfowl tend to congregate.
“People like to feed the ducks and the geese and it keeps them hanging around,” Potts said.
Still others are near marinas where boats may be flushing their heads.
The state tests swimming areas for enterococci, a bacteria group found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. While it does not cause illness, scientific studies indicate that enterococci may indicate the presence of other disease-causing organisms. People swimming or playing in waters with bacteria levels that exceed federal health standards have an increased risk of developing gastrointestinal illness or skin infections.
The program began in 1997 in response to public concern about coastal swimming waters. The Environmental Protection Agency began mandating recreational water quality testing in 2000 with the passage of the federal Beach Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act.
|N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632 |